What Not to Say to Your Child on the First Day of School

Sometimes it's what you don't say to your child that makes all the difference. Here are a few phrases to avoid on the first day of school


In a conversation about her son’s impending start to school, Erin’s son, Owen, 4, looked up at her and said, “I’m really going to miss you, Mommy.” It was a heart-warming moment that any mother would embrace. However, instead of smothering her sweet boy in kisses, the mom of three took a different approach. “I said, ‘No buddy, you’re not going to miss me. You’re going to have so much fun,’” says Erin. “I wanted him to be excited about school, not sad about leaving me.”

Navigating the early days of school can be tricky. Even though you’re probably feeling nostalgic about your little one growing up, you want him to be eager to start a new adventure, making what you say as he heads off to class that much more important. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of zingers better left unsaid.

“OMG. I can’t believe…”
“It drives me crazy when parents say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you’re so big. I can’t believe you’re ready for this,’” says Janice Pauls, a Winnipeg-based Kindergarten teacher. “They don’t understand their child is hearing that his mom needs him and it doesn’t make it easy for him to leave.” Instead, Pauls advises parents to highlight the positive. “Say things like, ‘I can hardly wait to hear about all the things you’re going to do’ or ‘I wonder what you’re going to get to colour today.’ If the child sees the parents are excited and looking forward to it, he’ll see school as a good thing.” Treating school as a normal step to growing up is key, adds Carla Blaine, a counsellor who specializes in children at the Calgary Counselling Centre. “This is a time to celebrate their coming of age and independence, not to be anxious about it.”

“I’ll stay as long as you want.”
Hanging around too long after drop-off can prolong anxiety and just make the situation worse, says Sara Dimerman, a therapist, author and creator of helpmesara.com. “It’s best not to spend the whole morning there, unless you have been invited and other parents are staying too. No matter how long you stay, an anxious child is going to display some separation anxiety when you leave. So if you stay on, you’re just delaying the inevitable response. As long as you are assured that your child is being well cared for, leave as soon as you have seen him in. Then, let the caregivers take over.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Brushing off a child’s worries about school will only heighten his anxiety. “It makes them keep more fear inside, which, in turn, makes the fear more intense,” says Pauls. Starting school is a huge moment for a child, and that needs recognition, so parents are well advised to listen to their child’s questions and concerns, says Maria Theofanidis, a Kindergarten teacher in Toronto. “If they say they’re scared, tell them it’s okay to be scared,” she says. “You could also say, ‘Sometimes Mommy gets scared with something different or new. Let’s see how we can help you feel better.’”

“I’ll be right here.” (And then leave.)
Thinking you’re being smart by pulling a Houdini and disappearing while your child is distracted proves to be less than magical, says Lynn D’Souza, a Kindergarten teacher in Toronto. “The child doesn’t know what to do because you said you’ll be there and now you’re not,” she says. “And at the end of the day, the child will be crying because the parent also told them they’d be there to pick them up but the child is not convinced. After all, Mom or Dad said they would stay and then left without saying goodbye.” Instead, D’Souza says parents should implement the drop-off-and-go technique, even if the child is upset. “Give him a kiss, tell him you love him very much, that you’ll be back to get him. Just say goodbye and go with an assurance that you (or someone else) will be there to pick him up.”

“I was so sad today.”
What you say when you pick up your child is just as important as what you say when you drop him off. Sure the house may have been quiet or you may have worried about him the whole time you were at work, but he doesn’t need to know that. “If you say, ‘It was so sad—the house was so empty I didn’t know what to do,’ the child is going to feel bad about leaving you,” says Pauls. “If you must have that conversation, have it with your mom or best friend.”

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